The Northern Lights – a show in the heavens

Running through Sweden was a long old slog! A very beautiful but incredibly vast country. It’s unbelievable to think that I’ve almost reached the Arctic now, and when I zoom out on my map and look down towards the UK, even northern Scotland looks way down south.

It’s getting very cold now, but I’ve been enjoying what the Swedes call a “Brit Summer”. Mild and wet rather than cold and dry – how fitting!

For those of you who aren’t runners, you may be surprised to know that it’s quite noisy, or at least noisy enough to scare most of the wildlife. I’ve been very unlucky not to have seen a single one elk or moose so far! However last week I witnessed the amazing Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) for the first time in my life which certainly made up for the lack of wildlife. To be able to see this incredible natural phenomenon on my journey was rewarding to say the least! Most often the lights are only visible for a short while and perhaps only upon one part of the horizon. A half hour display is considered very rare. But they danced across most of the sky, changing colour for several hours, from incandescent blues to luminous greens – a truly breath-taking experience. I just wish I could show you pictures but standard digital cameras aren’t sensitive enough to catch this spectacularly special show in the heavens!

For the last few weeks I’ve had a love hate (but mostly hate) relationship with the main road in Sweden, the E4. It’s classified as a highway, the ‘E’ standing for European-highway, i.e. a motorway that connects parts of Europe. However for the most part it’s a regular single carriageway or a mixture of two lanes one side and one lane the other. That being the case, it is very difficult to know what the next stretch of road is going to be like. Will it be a simple two lane road with a hard shoulder, bus stops and crossings allowing pedestrian access? Essentially a normal road, or will it be the worst nightmare for a runner? True motorway speed traffic, no hard shoulder and wire barriers not only in the central reservation, but along the edge of the road as well, meaning there is no escape if a vehicle strays towards me!

Avoiding the E4 is possible in some stretches, but others meant implausible detours, however in general it’s one extreme to the other – gravelly, sandy, overgrown, rocky bumpy tracks through the woods. Invariably, I’ve spent more time running on the highway than one would ever wish for!

However, in a strange way I had that feeling you get towards the end of a great book, where a part of you doesn’t want the end to come! The E4 will soon be a distant memory as I run through the other countries and the truck drivers in Sweden were amazing! The noise is horrendous, the scenery on the motorway not always the best, but for the most part I’ve been astounded by, and feel very grateful towards the Swedish drivers. They spotted me very early, always tried to give me room, and if possible reduced their speed. I can honestly say that in Sweden I felt safer on a tight road next to a huge three carriage truck than I do in a regular car!

The strangest running of my life came last week when I ended up down the middle of the motorway – a whole lane coned off for me!

Okay, it wasn’t coned off just for me, the highway maintenance were replacing the central reservation, but the staff instructed me to use the coned off area. It was just before rush hour when I took the photo below, but you can see I had approximately one and a half lanes to myself. Much to their dismay, the cars had just over half a lane and the hard shoulder to squeeze through. When rush hour came they were crawling or at a standstill, and the looks on their faces were incredible as I ran on by pushing my stroller!

Tuesday was the first snow shower of the run, a tiny sprinkling just half an hour in duration, but a promise of things to come very soon.

What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger

Some days just don’t go quite to plan and last Wednesday was definitely one of those days…

I ran on the motorway the day before, which was very unpleasant, as I’m sure you can imagine. So I tried to do the right thing by avoiding it, and ended up taking a four mile detour on much quieter and more scenic roads.

The compromise for the peace and beauty was that the roads were very tough going, made up of mostly sand and gravel which is much harder to run on than tarmac.  Then they became very overgrown but at least I wasn’t being squashed by huge trucks!

I had chosen that particular route because, according to my map, it was going to lead me to the only other bridge in the area that crosses the rather large river. After the best part of two hours, I came to an incredibly steep hill for my descent to the river.

I was scared by the hill as I wasn’t sure I could hold the weight of the buggy all the way down or convinced the brakes would work on the exceptionally steep gravel path ahead of me.

After ten sweat-filled minutes, I had slid most of the way down the hill, using my shoes more like skis. Luckily I made it down in one piece!  I then followed the road around the corner to the river and much to my dismay, the ‘invisible bridge’ that had been taken down years ago!

Let’s just say I was not very impressed with the map applications I had been using!

Now, my only option was to tackle the enormous hill again, but this time clambering up it. I strained both my ankle and knee on my left leg, and then had to retrace the last four miles back to the dreaded motorway.

Here I asked a local about how dangerous the highway was for the next 11 mile stretch, and he said there was a cycle path the whole way next to it!

Believe it or not, neither of the two map apps I have been using had indicated this vital bit of detail!  So this meant in the morning it took me 7 hours to do 14 miles then the next 14.5 miles only took 2.5 hours along the motorway…talk about a negative split.

Onwards and upwards for the next leg of my journey!